A life-threatening combination of a brainstem stroke and cardiac arrest came hurtling into Melvin Tan’s life when he was only in his early 30s. It was one of the bleakest phases in his life. However, with sheer will and an indomitable spirt, the then marketing manager made it through the journey of painful recovery which opened his eyes to the goodness of Singaporeans along the way, leading him to give back to society in any ways that he could now.
That Football Match
It all happened eight years ago, but the memories were still fresh in Melvin’s mind. He was in the middle of playing a football game when he collapsed and was rushed unconscious to Changi General Hospital. Melvin came out of a coma four days later and when he woke up, he had already lost a part of his memory.
When told that he had had a brainstem stroke and cardiac arrest, Melvin could not help but questioned “Why me?”.
He was young, active and had no health challenges till that fateful day. Feelings of desiderium and anger at his situation, mixed with a sense of gratitude and fortune when he compared himself with other patients in more dire circumstances, created a cocktail of conflicting emotions that he struggled to cope with during his stay at the hospital.
Embarking on Getting Better
It’s always the simplest actions, those performed subconsciously and always taken for granted, that would hurt the most during the recovery stage. Melvin first found that he had to swallow slower. “Nothing serious though, just a minor adjustment,” he thought.
Then he had nystagmus, an eye condition that causes blurry vision, which led to some discomfort. He took that in his stride.
What took the wind out of Melvin was when he tried to sing “Do, Re, Mi” but could not do so as the left side of his mouth was numb, “It was hard, I remember myself crying in the wheelchair because I could not do so.”
Right after his discharge, Melvin’s days were packed with physical, vestibular and speech therapy sessions in hopes that, since he was still relatively young, he could regain most of his functions and abilities affected by the stroke. One thing Melvin felt blessed was that since he has always been an introvert, he was not too affected by not being able to go out much but rather enjoyed spending time at home after his sessions.
Sunshine After the Rain
Shortly after, Melvin enrolled in the Transition to Employment programme (TTE) in 2014 as his goal was to get well enough to return to work. A newly launched return-to-work programme by SPD then, Melvin was supported by an inter-disciplinary care team consisting of an employment support specialist, social worker, occupational therapist, and physiotherapist. The team worked with him on improving his core strength, balance, and co-ordination, through exercises and games on the Kinect.
For example, as Melvin hoped to improve in his walking and ability to commute via taxi, he had to practise walking with his crutches on different terrain and in the community. The team also explored ways to modify his crutches so they would fit better and the use of assistive technology to help him be more independent.
Meanwhile, Melvin’s employment support specialist also explored potential job opportunities with him, and they tried to accommodate to his skills, preferences, and desired frequency of work. Seeing his potential to recover most of his functions, the TTE team encouraged him to pick up graphic design again.
Melvin received work-hardening training which included getting him used to controlling the mouse and typing. He went on to design some greeting cards and collaterals for TTE. A year and a half later, Melvin ‘graduated’ from TTE and returned to the workforce.
Looking back, Melvin remembers his days spent at TTE were akin to busking under the warm light of positivity which saw his gloomy days slowly dissipated. “I can’t remember exactly what they did as it has been so long, but I will never forget how they made me feel that everything will be alright. Cheerful banter with the therapists and desk staff lifted my spirits. We bonded over cooking sessions and the year-end party. They even bought a cupcake for my birthday; my favourite salted caramel!”
Kindness All Around
From the onset of his stroke till today, Melvin felt the kindness of his loved ones, then colleagues, and strangers he met along the way. At home, his family provided immense help and support. At the work front, the founder of his place of employment, Ms Lily Chia, presented a strong advocate for empathy. Under her leadership, Melvin’s colleagues took good care of him and even went out of their way to print his documents in larger fonts for easier reading. In the community, random strangers went up to him and offered help. A private hire driver even gave him free rides to work every day for half a year.
“Being a person with disabilities myself, kindness from others gave me the strength to face life’s challenges. That is why I decided to pay it forward,” he said.
My SPD Experience
Melvin’s ex-boss, Mr Ho Soo Too contributed $5,000 to help him pay for the change of his cardiac implant. However, seeing that the pandemic has hit charities hard and that he could pay for his implant using his MediSave, Melvin decided to put the money to better use instead.
As he has a soft spot for children, Melvin went on to donate a large portion of the money to the My SPD Experience campaign to support SPD’s children’s programmes, with the rest going to another charity. “Mum and Dad have always taught me to help those in need, so here I am! Let’s help each other tide through these tough times,” he said.
Touched by his kindness and willingness to give back, TTE’s senior physiotherapist Pauline Koh, who worked with him on his rehabilitation, said: “There’s always so much we can learn from our clients. Melvin’s words of appreciation (that came with his donation) really encouraged us to continue with the work we do. His encouragement is a reminder to me that everyone has the ability to reach out and give to others, and that giving can come in any shape and form.”
The pandemic has disrupted the plans that many people have set out for themselves. However, for Melvin, this episode has allowed him to experience and see life in a more positive light, “Now I live by this belief that life can take away everything except hope. Always hold on to hope. We are rainy day survivors. The sky will run out of rain one day. Hang on!”
As we wrap up the year, we would like to thank you for journeying with us in empowering persons with disabilities. To join us in spreading some festive cheer this holiday season, we hope that you can share your SPD experience – as an event participant, donor, volunteer, beneficiary or caregiver etc with us to help raise funds for persons with disabilities. Alternatively, you could also consider making a donation here to give hope to others.